IT/OT convergence and the future of Industry 4.0

By Dhananjay Ganjoo, Managing Director for India and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at F5

We’re on the cusp of a major overhaul, as 5G is set to become mainstream in the years to come. Simultaneously, the Internet of Things (IoT) is already fueling innovation for Industry 4.0 as device connectivity increases and smart data is smoothly processed. However, before Industry 4.0 becomes a reality, networks and systems must be integrated for innovation to reap the promised benefits.

With 5G acting as an enabler, IT/OT convergence is happening faster than expected. This convergence, which is the unification of the computer network used to process data and the operational technology systems or processes and physical equipment used to host these processes, ensures efficient business operations by collecting and analyzing data from OT systems.

The F5 2022 Application Strategy Status Report reveals that Indian companies are most excited about IT/OT convergence
Interestingly, the 2022 State of Application Strategy Report reveals that 44% of Indian respondents are excited about IT/OT convergence, followed by 42% of Indian respondents who are excited about 5G in India. While this excitement from India ensures rapid innovation, it also opens up a soft underbelly for cybersecurity threats as attack surfaces continue to grow exponentially due to IT & OT convergence.

If not handled appropriately, attacks can be further accelerated by 5G networks. These connected devices and industrial equipment can be exploited using the same threats and vulnerabilities that have traditionally plagued computer software and hardware. While 5G allows organizations to process massive amounts of data and move it quickly across networks, it also makes it easier and faster for malicious actors to exploit networks with malware and steal IP addresses. and sensitive data.

Safety – a top priority
Therefore, it is necessary to overcome these challenges before applying the path of IT/OT convergence. With technologies inherently incompatible with organizational disconnects, the gap can seem daunting compared to the benefits. However, the key to success here is to bridge the gaps to benefit from IT/OT convergence and improve industrial efficiency.

Businesses can start by making sure security is a top priority and not just an afterthought. Robust cybersecurity can be ensured by implementing best practices such as Zero Trust, segmentation, and uniform security controls and policies throughout IT & OT deployments and infrastructure setup at the start of convergence. This default setting can help improve visibility, identity management, real-time log analysis, and ongoing vulnerability management.

On the IT side of the deployment, organizations can benefit from a risk-based vulnerability management approach. It includes a preemptive understanding of the threats and corresponding risks posed by the OT environment. Researching and choosing the best-suited security devices, tools, and platforms to monitor, detect, and respond to these threats is key to maintaining device-level visibility. Organizations should aim to have a centralized management system and standardize technologies as much as possible.

The promise of a progressive future
It can be frustrating for IT teams to navigate different technologies, where sometimes unforeseen circumstances can increase the chance of errors, leading to costly consequences. Integrating a simple single-pane view for management to gain and maintain maximum visibility can help bridge this gap and easily automate the deployment and configuration process, ensuring operational efficiency and reliability.

Organizationally, robust cybersecurity requires organizational restructuring so that IT and OT departments can work together and manage the newly merged technology. This requires cross-training teams to better understand how the two environments work and interact.

Efforts to close the gap early in IT/OT convergence can help spot anomalies in real time and signal an attack, saving costly money. Although disconnection may seem daunting, the promise of benefits is worth the excitement around IT/OT convergence and worth the commitment to tomorrow’s secure Industry 4.0.



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